by Michael Chabon



131pp/$16.95/October 2004

The Final Solution
Cover by Jay Ryan & Jason Harvey

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Final Solution is Michael Chabon's homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, although the detective and his creator and never mentioned by name in the novel, set during World War II and Holmes's retirement on the South Downs.  In The Final Solution, Chabon's version of Holmes, referred to as simply "the old man" finds himself confronted by a strange seemingly mute boy and his parrot who spouts of random numbers in German.  The game is set afoot when the parrot is birdnapped.

It is clear from the beginning of the novel that Chabon's old man is Sherlock Holmes, even if Chabon doesn't come out and say it.  The Old Man shares Holmes's interests and peccadillos.  His memories include references to various of Holmes's cases.  However, the character has moved on from his day as a consulting detective and only with some reluctance finds himself drawn into a mystery concerning a young boy and his pet parrot, Bruno. Against his better judgment, the character does find himself drawn into the case, which incorporates murder, family secrets, and World War II.

Although it would have been all too easy for Chabon to write a pastiche of Conan Doyle, he has elected not to mimic Conan Doyle's writing style, a decision which strengthens the novel.  A century after he wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle's style is dated and Chabon could easily dispense with it in The Final Solution since Watson does not figure into the novel. Chabon has instead elected to use a modern style.

One of the interesting features of The Final Solution is the fact that one of the central mysteries for the characters, Bruno's continuous recitation of random numbers in German, is not of mystery at all for the reader.  Any reader with knowledge of twentieth century history will know that the numbers refer to victims of the Holocaust, leaving the big question as to when the characters, notably the old man, will make the leap of imagination and cognition to figure out what the Nazis are doing in Germany. In this, Chabon has reversed Conan Doyle's own formula. While Chabonís readers have more information than Holmes, and can see where he misses connections, Conan Doyle always withheld information that would have allowed the reader to solve the crime before Holmes could resolve the issues.

Chabon, however, does include enough twists and turns in the case that he manages to keep the reader on his toes.  Situations which seem obvious, turn out to be more complicated, and those which appear to be completely innocuous have hidden depths.  While Chabon could have added more details and more twists to the story without the book overstaying its welcome, at its current length it works quite well without feeling padded or rushed.

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